AirOmatix, when oxygen, or the lack thereof, is all you need

Portland-based startup explores how it's innovative oxygen isolating and storage technology could impact healthcare, athletic, and food storage.

Theresa McCormick

AirOmatix, a Portland-based biotech startup company, is creating technologies with the potential to improve methods of oxygen concentration, storage, and delivery for use in healthcare, athletic, and food storage and transportation settings. Company co-founders Theresa McCormick (pictured), an assistant professor of chemistry, and Luke Lutkus, Ph.D., developed the technology in McCormick's lab at Portland State University.

AirOmatix's patent-pending technology uses photochemical reactions to separate oxygen from the air. The oxygen purification process offers an alternative to the methods currently used in industrial applications and medical devices, both of which are energy-intensive. The renewable storage process uses temperature differentials to store and release the oxygen. With the technology's portability and potentially high-flow-rate, it has a distinct advantage over the bulky, highly-pressurized storage tanks produced by industry and low oxygen flow rates provided by portable oxygen concentration devices currently on the market.

"The technology is like an oxygen sponge," McCormick said. "When you shine a light on it, it will absorb all of the oxygen in the environment and hold it as long as the temperature stays below 64 degrees. Increasing the temperature above 64 degrees is like squeezing the sponge, it releases all of the stored oxygen."

Lutkus and McCormick recently took their technology to the Washington State University Site of the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps program and Oregon Health and Science University's Biomedical Innovation Program Corp, where they explored potential avenues to enter the marketplace. The team's current focus is on developing high-flow-rate portable oxygen concentrators for use in medical applications, such as the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and as a supplemental oxygen delivery device for athletes. In addition to these markets, McCormick and Lutkus are considering applying the technology to food transportation and storage, where it has the potential to reduce food waste.

AirOmatix has received a University Venture Development Fund grant from Portland State University's Office of Innovation & Intellectual Property. The funds will support ongoing market research and the development of a prototype oxygen compressor and storage unit. The company also plans on submitting a proposal for a Small Business Innovation Research grant through federal funding agencies.

"The whole process of launching a startup company has been incredibly rewarding," Lutkus said. "As scientists, we're used to working in the lab and publishing papers. That's work that contributes to knowledge other researchers can build upon. It's different when you make the transition from research to entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, you have this technology that you believe in and the opportunity to put out into the world where it can improve people's lives. And that's very exciting.